Located in East Flanders, Erpe-Mere is not only a stopover for people sojourning in Belgium's 'fairy-tale cities,' but also a thriving tourist hotspot in its own right. This municipality was formed from the merger of 8 towns and has a total area of less than 35 square kilometers. But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in rustic charm, resplendent scenery, Michelin restaurants and world-class cuisine.
Home to the Blue Angels motorcycle group, Erpe-Mere hosts the Steenbergcross, the season's first international cyclo-cross race. Known for its vast open spaces and reverence to nature, the area is also popular with adepts of holistic wellness, offering a range of spa and wellness opportunities to tourists.
The local 205-hectare nature reserve called Den Dotter, which straddles the towns of Aaigem and Heldergem, is an oasis of peace speckled with marigolds. It boasts over 300 plant species, a paved road, a bakehouse and a mill. In fact, Erpe-Mere is known as the Belgian area with the most water mills, counting 11 such landmarks in total, 7 of which are protected by law. But perhaps the best-known local mill is Kruiskoutermolen in Mere, a gargantuan windmill. More than 6 centuries since it was built, it's still in use as a flour mill, and it's still open to viewers by appointment at the tourist office.
Erpe-Mere is also brimming with places of worship, some of which are sprinkled in the most unlikely places. The tiny Sint-Anna-Kapelleke, dedicated to Mary's mother, lies in a field. It's believed to have served as a last stop for prayer for people on their way to the gallows. The much grander St. Nicholas' Church of Aaigem, built in the 18th century just before the French Revolution, boasts a unique octagonal crossing tower that dates back to the 14th century. Within, visitors can find an impressive van Peteghem organ from 1819, as well as 17th-century tombstones.
Popular with hikers, the 8-kilometer "Noble Tour" is a walking trail that starts at Ede train station. Another year-round attraction is the circular walk between Brussels and Ghent. Both trails carry on through picturesque villages neighboring the town of Aalst, with its magnificent train station, stock exchange building, alderman's house and belfry. A unique hiking highlight is the Mariagrot, a grotto home that lies at a crossroads, topped with a sculpture of the Virgin Mary and featuring an art exhibition within.
There are also a few popular cycling routes, like the one in Vossehol or the challenging WTC't Veloken watermill route. Some of the best-loved cyclist sights are the Denderbrug Bridge in Geraardsbergen, Belgium, and Gotegemberg Hill in Mere, near Den Dotter. The latter, a hill with an 18% incline, was featured in "The Misfortunates" and continues to draw cyclists eager for a challenge.